Patrons’ portraits to color Shutesbury library’s next chapter

  • The M.N. Spear Memorial Library at 10 Cooleyville Road in Shutesbury. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • The M.N. Spear Memorial Library at 10 Cooleyville Road in Shutesbury. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

  • Shutesbury residents Anna Sobel and Brian Bender pose with their two children, Milo and Ezra, for Jamie Malcolm-Brown at the M.N. Spear Memorial Library this month. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer
Monday, November 21, 2022

SHUTESBURY — Huddled together for a photo between bookshelves, Shutesbury residents Anna Sobel and Brian Bender say they’ve gotten used to the M.N. Spear Memorial Library feeling like a hug.

“It’s everything,” Sobel said of the library.

Sobel, Bender and their children, Milo and Ezra, arrived at the library shortly after noon on Sunday as one of nine families registered for a photo shoot. The session, shot by Shutesbury photographer Jamie Malcolm-Brown, was part of an ongoing photography series intended to highlight the library’s patrons that will be put on display in the town’s future library building planned for Leverett Road.

According to Library Director Mary Anne Antonellis, Sobel’s feeling that the library is “everything” is mutual.

“This library is beloved by the community, but the library is not a building,” Antonellis said. “The library is really the people in the community who use it.”

This notion inspired the library’s photography series, she explained. Described online as a “public art project,” the library’s website stressed that “this project celebrates the most important thing about our library.”

Upon being approached by Antonellis, Malcolm-Brown, who uses the library regularly, said it was a “no-brainer … to help out and make her vision happen.”

“When Mary Anne approached me, it was an honor,” he said, adding that he knows how much the library means to the Shutesbury community.

Malcolm-Brown said the library has been a crucial pillar of emotional support for his family. During the pandemic, Antonellis and the library would provide a “bag of books” for Malcolm-Brown’s homeschooled children and “knew what to put out to get (his family) through the week.” He added that one of his young children struggles with anxiety, but feels welcome at the library.

“The one place they will go to on their own is the library … because they are confident that the library is a safe and comfortable place for them,” Malcolm-Brown said.

Like Malcolm-Brown, Sobel and Bender said choosing to help the library with the photography project was an easy decision.

“Whatever it is, we’ll do it!” Sobel said, emphasizing her family’s desire to give back to the library.

Sobel described her family as “big library users.” Aside from providing the children with “a big old stack of books” each week, the library has provided opportunities for music and movement activities, anti-racism group work and a concert for Bender’s Butterfly Swing Band.

Shutesbury’s new 5,490-square-foot library, at a cost of $6.4 million, is planned for a 22-acre site at 66 Leverett Road following support at annual Town Meeting in the spring and a subsequent ballot vote. The town was selected for the statewide Small Library Pilot Project, meaning the town will have to cover one-quarter of eligible costs, and all of the ineligible costs, which combined are estimated at $2.44 million.

The next step in the process is hiring an architect or design team, Antonellis said. A request for qualifications went out last week, with qualifications due just before Thanksgiving. Interviews are expected to be conducted in the first half of December, with hopes of having a contractor signed by the start of 2023. Antonellis expressed optimism that construction could be complete by March 2025.

“We’re doing this, and I am devoted and excited about making this happen and sticking to the timeline because we need a new library,” she said. The current library has been described by officials as a cramped 768-square-foot building with no running water that opened in 1902.

Shutesbury residents who would like to be photographed for the portrait project may register for the next session on Nov. 20. The webpage to do so can be accessed at bit.ly/3NLM8qM. Participating families will have their portraits showcased in the M.N. Spear Memorial Library and on the library’s website before being displayed in the new library.